The Foster Care File of Male Baby Zenko
+++ A True Story +++
Mrs. Zenko was 41 years old, and had been separated from her husband for several years. She worked for a hatmaking factory - a New York City loft operation - where she was paid on a piecework basis. She had an affair with a Mr. Miller, 47, who lived in her building and owned a small grocery in the neighborhood. Miller was married; his wife was an invalid.
When Mrs. Zenko became pregnant, her husband filed for divorce. She discussed her options with Miller. She later swore to social workers that he had promised to get a divorce and marry her if she would carry to term. According to Miller, he'd never actually promised, but could understand how she might have misinterpreted what he had said.
After the baby (a boy) was born, Miller waffled. He wanted to marry Mrs. Zenko, but said that his situation was very complicated, and he needed time to work things out. She was unable to take the baby home from the hospital, so he was placed temporarily in a public nursery run by Foster Care, where she visited him frequently (occasionally accompanied by Miller).
Foster Care's social workers wanted Mrs. Zenko to make a decision. Either take the baby home, or relinquish him for adoption. She stalled; there was no way she could decide until she knew what Miller was going to do. And Miller continued to waffle.
When Foster Care moved the baby from their nursery to a private foster home, the social workers stepped up their pressure on Mrs. Zenko. They accused her of using her son as a pawn, which she denied. They asked her to set a time limit. She refused, telling them that she wanted to keep him if she possibly could. She continued to visit him frequently.
When Foster Care learned that Miller and Mrs. Zenko had resumed their intimate relationship, one of the social workers met with Miller. She told him that he was using Mrs. Zenko, that he was stringing her along. He terminated the interview. She then confronted Mrs. Zenko. Mrs. Zenko denied she was attempting to manipulate the situation, and insisted, heatedly and repeatedly, that she loved Miller. She agreed, though, to a date when she would decide one way or the other about relinquishing her son for adoption. When that day came, she reneged. In another heated meeting, they set a new date.
Mrs. Zenko then did something that astonished everyone. She offered to Miller that he didn't have to get a divorce. She and the baby would just move in with him. She would help him take care of his invalid wife! He told her she was crazy.
Foster Care agreed.
The social worker again confronted Mrs. Zenko about her using the child as a pawn. Mrs. Zenko wept and accused the social worker of being unfair. At 42 years old, she felt this was absolutely her only hope of ever having a real home. She talked freely about how she hated working in the sweatshop and being poor; how she loved both Miller and the child; how it all went together.
It took several hours, but eventually Mrs. Zenko "faced reality". She signed the consent forms to enable Foster Care to refer the case to an adoption agency.
I have no idea what became of her after that day. Perhaps she lived happily ever after.
["The Foster Care File of Male Baby Zenko"
(C)1996 by Jonathan Marin]